IDF holding 80% of terrorists’ bodies for potential exchange

Defense Ministry says its policy hasn’t changed although four bodies were recently returned to their families.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The IDF is holding a vast majority of the bodies of terrorists who have been killed during attacks this year, Israel Hayom reported Sunday, despite having returned four bodies in the last two months.

In response to a query by the Hebrew daily, the Defense Ministry said in a statement that the policy set by the Israeli cabinet in September 2020 hasn’t changed.

“Following an examination of the numbers, in more than 80% of the cases brought before the defense minister over the past year, he decided to not to return the [terrorists’] bodies,” the statement said. “In extraordinary cases, which correspond with the cabinet’s policy, a decision is made, in accordance with recommendations from defense and legal authorities, to return a body. Minister Gantz will continue spearheading a policy of fighting terror uncompromisingly.”

The recent exceptions included the November return of the corpses of a teenager who had been killed the previous month while throwing firebombs at cars near Jerusalem, and a woman who was allegedly mentally unstable who had attempted to stab a police officer in the Old City in September. Last week, the body of a teenaged stabber who had injured two people last month also in the Old City was returned.

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Gantz decided to allow their families to bury them on humanitarian grounds, considering their ages and/or mental state. A defense official also told the paper that another, vaguer criterion for making an exception is for people with “other extenuating personal issues.”

Perhaps the latter was the reason for the return last week of the body of an Arab doctor who had also been neutralized while attempting to stab a police officer in September in the Old City. His burial was reported by Palestinian media.

According to one Palestinian group, The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, Israel is currently holding some 80 terrorist bodies. The Israeli policy is meant to both deter future terrorist acts, and be one of the cards Israel holds in its years-long attempt to carry out a prisoner exchange with Hamas.

The Iranian proxy terror organization that runs the Gaza Strip is holding as its bargaining chips the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, St. Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, and two men with mental health issues who entered Gaza on their own in 2014 (Avraham Avera Mengistu) and 2015 (Hisham al-Sayed).

Talks with Hamas mediated by Egypt regarding a prisoner exchange that restarted after May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls have mostly broken down. Israel at first had said that it would not allow anything but humanitarian relief into Gaza until this issue was resolved but has since backed down somewhat.

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Egypt, which pledged $500 million to help rebuild homes inadvertently destroyed as a result of IDF airstrikes on terror centers when Hamas launched thousands of missiles into Israel seven months ago, began removing rubble some two months ago. On December 14 it announced the beginning of its second phase of reconstruction, with six projects including the building of residential communities in three cities.